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Travel, cafes, social contacts: Belgium sets out plan to ease coronavirus measures
Belgium's ban on non-essential travel will remain in place until at least 18 April - and cafes and restaurants will have to wait until 1 May before they can reopen - prime minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday evening.
A gradual plan has been drawn up to ease the coronavirus restrictions - starting this Monday - after a four-hour meeting of the consultative committee, which brings together representatives from Belgium's federal and regional governments and language communities.
De Croo said: "People need perspective, after months of sustained efforts that have allowed us to keep the situation under control."
He said the emphasis at first would be on allowing outdoor activities, where the risk of infection is between 10 and 20 times lower. "We will be able to do more things outside and that will help us to respect the rules better everywhere," De Croo added.
From 8 March, outdoor meet-ups will be allowed with up to 10 people - still respecting the rules on masks and safe distancing. Until now, the limit was four.
The rule on close social contacts indoors remains unchanged. You can only invite one person to your house - always the same person - with whom you do not need to wear a mask or maintain safe distancing.
From next week, up to 50 attendees will be allowed at funerals (up from 15), provided the venue is big enough to ensure 10m² of space per person.
From 15 March, universities can resume face-to-face tuititon, with students spending one day per week on campus. Schools can organise external activities again.
From 1 April, outdoor team sports activities and scout camps will be allowed. Theme parks can reopen. Outdoor cultural activities can resume from this date, with a 50-person limit.
Children's holiday camps over Easter can go ahead, with a maximum of 25 children under 13 - and a maximum of 10 children aged 13-18. After the Easter holidays, all secondary schools will resume full-time face-to-face lessons.
The ban on non-essential travel is likely to remain in place until at least 18 April - putting an end to any foreign travel plans over the Easter holidays.
Indoor activities, including the reopening of cinemas and theatres, cafes and restaurants, will have to wait until 1 May. Wallonia and Flanders were keen to see a reopening of the catering industry earlier than 1 May, according to RTL, while the Brussels region, the federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke and prime minister Alexander De Croo wanted to wait for May.
May will also see a relaxation of the social contact rules and an increase in the maximum number of worshippers at religious services, plus the reopening of funfairs and gyms.
The dates set out in today's plan are provisional and depend on how the coronavirus figures evolve over the coming weeks, De Croo added.
As the restrictions are eased, especially indoors, it will become important to develop the use of rapid coronavirus testing, including self-testing kits.
"Rapid testing will play an essential role," said De Croo. "To do this, it will be necessary to develop a flexible legal framework so that antigen tests are widely available in the short term."
The requirement to work from home remains unchanged.